AFL Round 6 – West Coast v Western Bulldogs: Nobody, Nothing and NicNait

West Coast Eagles v Western Bulldogs

2.40pm, Sunday 5 May

Arbitrage Arena

Fifteenth played sixteenth on a warm (28°) May Sunday afternoon in Perth.  The Eagles now greedy for success playing a Bulldogs side needy of respect.

I generally see 2 games of footy each weekend.  The Eagles game and my Friday night unwind.  When the Bulldogs run out I can recognise Boyd, Cooney, Minson, Cross and Dahlhaus (the Platten locks and the great game he played here last year stick in the mind).  Koby Stevens and Nick Lower are vaguely familiar from their fringe player time in Perth.  The rest look like they have just come from a Footballers Anonymous meeting.

The game itself was similarly bland and warrants no great retelling.  The Bulldogs worked hard but were short on height, strength and skill.  At half time the Eagles led by 32 points (10.4 to 5.2).  The contest reminded me of a Bill Collins race call from the 1970’s when 2 gallopers called Nobody and Nothing were both running around in Melbourne.  Eventually they ended up in the same race and the Accurate One laconically chortled “it had to happen folks; Nobody’s in front and Nothing’s behind it.”

The half time entertainment was more engaging than the first half.  I love the way the Mini League always has a couple of kids in jumpers that extend beyond their hands and knees.  As usual, this game had a couple who were more engaged in chatting among themselves than anything relating to the ball.  Unusually, one had their Mum camouflaged as the goal umpire and she was taking her lead from the AFL umpire who denied the Tigers a goal last weekend.  She kept wandering onto the field to give her son a reassuring pat and a little coaching before hurriedly retreating as the ball advanced.

As the Mini League finished a 201cm Fijian in a red vest bounced down the players’ race and put on the best display of “pick me, pick me” since Mini League selection at the local primary school.  36,000 pairs of eyes were transfixed by Nic Naitanui as he marked, jumped, tapped and kicked with a trainer.  The other 43 players were left to bloom unseen.  Woosha gave his typical Easter Island statue performance as he marched across the ground behind the prancing Fijian, but the ‘Yes Vote’ from the crowd was more overwhelming than a free beer referendum.

The Bulldogs had dominated possession in the last 10 minutes of the first half, but their lack of any forward options had prevented any inroads into the Eagles’ lead.  The second half started in similar fashion with both teams scoring 3 goals in the first 15 minutes.  The Dogs having the better run of play but not the scoreboard.

Enough was enough for Woosha and the other 36,000 Eagles fans who had seen a similar lead squandered to a modest but hard running opponent last week.  Tigger bounced onto the field and a sepia silent movie was immediately transformed into a raucous technicolour blockbuster.

For weeks I have been racking my brain about what was wrong with my Eagles.  “One bloke can’t make that much of a difference surely,” I had told myself.  We won plenty of games last year where NicNait played poorly.  But sometimes presence counts for more than possessions.

Naitanui’s presence is huge for the Eagles.  His stats are a bonus, but just being there transforms honest toilers into threating marauders.  His energy and enthusiasm are contagious.  Fringe players run faster and straighter.  He knocks the ball into the open and chases it down himself where our midfield is lacking.

In 15 minutes his presence transformed a likely win into a rolled gold certainty.  We kicked 5 unanswered goals in that time to lead by 52 points at orange break.

The last quarter was 30 minutes of protracted junk time.  The Dogs still working hard going nowhere, and the Eagles scoring more from their opponent’s exhaustion than their own execution.  The Eagles winning by 70 points (21.11 to 10.7).

I had hoped that my Eagles would put on a Swan Lake performance; being suddenly transformed from Ugly Ducklings by NicNait’s energy in the second half.  In truth it was more like the movie “Awakenings” based on now famous neurologist Oliver Sacks’ early work with sufferers of encephalitis lethargica (sleeping sickness).  The new drug L-Dopa suddenly awakens patients from their decades of torpor, but all too soon the effects wear off and they relapse.

And underdone NicNait and the languishing Eagles found their spark for 15 minutes today.  An easy fixture over the next 5 weeks gives the chance to extend that to the longer periods needed to challenge top sides.  At least we saw some signs of life today.

It is tempting to give NicNait 3 Malarkey votes for 40 minutes of football, but Shuey and Priddis deserve the votes for their tireless running all day.  Our forward line regained its potency and accuracy with Darling kicking 5 to half time (his best game of the year) and Kennedy 4 after the break.  Cox was damaging around the ground and kicked 4 when resting forward, but in fairness Minson was the best ruckman until NicNait’s arrival.  It was like watching a tag team eventually wear down a solo Hulk Hogan.

Schofield and Hurn finally found some run from half back, though a better side will find taggers to restrict them.  Wellingham looked the goods, with pace and skill to match Shuey and compensate for a plodding Kerr who continues to rail against the dying of his light.

The best thing I can say about the Bulldogs is that they worked hard, never gave up and had a dip all day.  That is how the Eagles played in 2009/10 before their resurgence of recent years.  I knew the Dogs lacked height and strength, but it was their poor field kicking that surprised me most.  I guess it is young players adapting to the speed and pressure of AFL.

I struggled to understand why the Dogs could not find a marking forward all game.  Both sides went inside 50 the same number of times, but the Eagles took 18 marks to 3 inside their scoring zone.  McCartney seemed determined to keep his talls behind the play to staunch the bleeding.  I scratched my head in the period either side of half time when the Dogs had the run of play but could only bomb long to the mid-sized Stringer and the diminutive Dahlhaus up forward.  Still their resilience is testament to the character of McCartney and his playing group in the face of regular heavy losses.

Both teams will sit down tomorrow to review the match tape; their season to date and the challenges ahead over a long season.  Then they will join hands and repeat the Serenity Prayer of all Footballers Anonymous groups:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the losses and injuries we cannot change.  The courage to change the poor kicking that we can.  And the wisdom to know the difference that a NicNait makes.”

EAGLES                 6.3          10.4        16.7        21.11 (137)

BULLDOGS          3.0          5.2          8.3          10.7 (67)

GOALS:

EAGLES: Darling 5, Cox 4, Kennedy 4, LeCras 3, Shuey 2, Masten, Hill, Priddis.

BULLDOGS: Smith 2, Cooney, Addison, Macrae, Stringer, Tutt, Jones, Wallis, Lower.

BEST:

West Coast: Shuey, Priddis, Darling, Cox, Glass, Masten, Naitanui.

Western Bulldogs: Boyd, Cooney, Minson, Smith, Jones, Roughead.

UMPIRES Findlay, Farmer, Hosking.

CROWD: 36,163

MALARKEY VOTES: Shuey (WCE) 3; Priddis (WCE) 2; Darling (WCE) 1

Comments

  1. Neil Anderson says:

    Perhaps another line or two for the prayer…
    ‘ Grant us the wisdom for our list managers and forward scouts to get off their arses and search the land for the tallest of recruits that they may taketh a mark on the forward line…and maybe kicketh a goal or ten.’ Leadeth us not down the path of forever recruiting midgets, to brighten our future, for ever and ever, amen.’
    Back to reality for a minute, I always check our reserves side results and scan the best players for next week’s seniors. As usual we’re plumb out of over six-footers to solve the current malaise.
    Liked your report anyway, made it clear how we battle against the land of the giants.

  2. Great read Pete. The Easter island line was a cracker and you’re spot on about NicNat: his presence invigorates his teammates

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